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The ongoing national debate about same-sex marriage recently reached the court of opinion inside Atlanta City Hall.
Alex Wan, an openly gay Atlanta city councilman serving his first term, introduced legislation during the City Council’s last meeting of 2012 declaring support for marriage equality.
Wan’s nonbinding resolution contained several pieces of information to back up his argument. We thought one statement in particular would be interesting to fact-check.
"The city of Atlanta has one of the highest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations per capita, ranking third among major American cities," it read.
Atlanta has long been perceived to have one of the largest LGBT populations in the South, if not the nation. An annual LGBT pride festival draws an estimated 200,000 people. Several intown neighborhoods have businesses that market heavily to the LGBT community. Mayoral candidates actively courted LGBT voters during the 2009 campaign. Wan’s resolution passed by an 11-2 vote.
Wan’s resolution may have little sway across the street from City Hall among lawmakers who work in the state Capitol. In 2004, 76 percent of Georgia voters backed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The councilman recognized that obstacle, but believes the tide is shifting nationally on the issue and wanted Atlanta to be on the forefront. Wan said he’s unaware of any other Georgia cities that have passed a similar resolution.
"We should be one of the first voices to that dialogue because of the sheer number (of LGBT residents in the city)," Wan said in a telephone interview.
Wan added that he has been with his partner for more than seven years and said it "seemed inconsistent to me" that they’ve made such a commitment but can’t have it legally recognized by the state.
The issue is somewhat thorny inside City Hall. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been criticized by some LGBT activists for not fully supporting same-sex marriage. Reed, who as a state lawmaker successfully passed a hate crimes bill to protect gays and other groups, has said he respects the council’s vote on the resolution. Wan said he didn’t intend to pressure Reed by introducing the resolution and hopes the mayor will soon "reach the same conclusion" on same-sex marriage.
Wan said he based the claim about Atlanta off information from the online library Wikipedia. The Wikipedia link used a chart that was published in 2006 in The Seattle Times. The chart read Atlanta ranked third, with 12.8 percent of its population as LGBT. The sources for the chart were the U.S. Census Bureau and the Williams Institute, which conducts research on sexual orientation, gender identity law and public policy.
The U.S. Census Bureau tracked the number of same-sex couples (it does not attempt to determine sexual orientation) by county in 2010. Among counties with 50 or more same-sex couples, DeKalb County was first in Georgia and 10th nationwide with about 15 same-sex couples per 1,000. Fulton County was second in Georgia and ranked 21st in the U.S. with nearly 12 same-sex couples per 1,000.
According to another website, City-Data, Atlanta ranked 32nd in the percentage of same-sex unmarried households. If you narrow it down to cities with overall populations greater than 100,000, Atlanta ranked sixth in the percentage of same-sex unmarried households. The list does not indicate when it was compiled, but the numbers were pretty similar to the most recent U.S. census data.
PolitiFact Georgia reviewed 2011 U.S. census data, and it showed the percentage of same-sex unmarried households in Atlanta was 1.6 percent. Atlanta’s percentage was lower than San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Oakland, Calif., Seattle and Santa Fe, N.M. Of those cities, Seattle is the only one in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages, and their law was passed last month.
To sum up, Councilman Wan said Atlanta has one of the highest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations per capita and ranks third nationally. From what we can determine from U.S. census and other data, it’s valid to state Atlanta has one of the highest LGBT populations in the country.
It’s less clear that Atlanta ranks third nationally because there’s not much current data detailing the percentage of all LGBT residents by city. Atlanta ranks below more than at least five cities when it comes to same-sex, unmarried households.
The first part of Wan’s claim appears accurate. But even these numbers are open to interpretation. It appears Atlanta is a little lower than third in the other part of the claim.
Overall, Wan’s statement is probably accurate, but it needs a lot of context.
We rate it: Half True.
Atlanta City Council resolution 1813, passed on Dec. 3, 2012.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "In Georgia, Obama's stance on gay marriage draws ire, cheers," May 9, 2012.
City-Data statistics on same-sex households.
Email from City of Atlanta communications director Sonji Jacobs, Dec. 6, 2012.
Seattle Times, "12.9% in Seattle are gay or bisexual, second only to S.F., study says," Nov. 15, 2006.
Telephone interview with Councilman Alex Wan, Dec. 6, 2012.
U.S. Census Bureau 2010 data on same-sex couples in Georgia.
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